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Postcard of  restored 1901 Autocar

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Postcard of restored 1901 Autocar
Smithsonian Institution


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1900-1909

1901 Autocar, with James Osmond on ground, and John and Louis Clarke in the automobile, 1912
1901 Autocar, with James Osmond on ground, and John and Louis Clarke in the automobile, 1912

1901 Autocar, after restoration
1901 Autocar, after restoration

Close-up of 1901 Autocar engine
Close-up of 1901 Autocar engine

View of 1901 Autocar, after restoration
View of 1901 Autocar, after restoration

1901 Autocar, before restoration
1901 Autocar, before restoration

Autocar truck gasoline engine

Clarke gasoline tricycle

Autocar automobile
Catalog #: 307,257, Accession #: 68,520
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

This automobile is believed to be the first shaft-driven car constructed in the United States. It was designed by Louis S. Clarke in 1901. Clarke was president and engineer of the Autocar company at the time. In November 1901, this car was driven from the factory in Ardmore, Pa., to the auto show in New York City's Madison Square Garden in just over six hours.

The Autocar Company began life as the Pittsburg Motor Car Company in 1897. Its president, Louis S. Clarke, was an early auto engineer who was one of the designers of a three-wheel, gasoline-powered tricycle in 1897 (also in the Smithsonian collection). In 1899, the company moved to Ardmore, Pa., and changed its name to the Autocar Company. The Autocar Company began to make trucks as well as cars in 1907 and switched over to making trucks exclusively after 1911. In 1953, the White Motor Car Company bought a controlling interest in Autocar and moved the company to Exton, Pa. In the 1980s, Volvo bought the name, and the company/name changed hands again in 2001.

Physical Description
Artifact. The 1901 Autocar has a shaft-drive engine, powered with a water-cooled, two-cylinder, horizontal-opposed engine in the front of the car. It seats four people. The gasoline tank and battery box were under the front seat. It has wooden-spoked wheels with 28" by 3" clincher tires, and the wheelbase is 66 1/2 inches, the tread 56 inches.
Date Made:
Gift of the Autocar Company, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Related People, Places, and Events
The Autocar Company

User and Manufacturer
Louis Semple Clarke (1866 - 1957)
Louis S. Clarke was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1866 and died in Palm Beach, Fla., on January 6, 1957. According to the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, “For approximately the first ten years of [the Autocar company's] existence Clarke was president and chief engineer of the company. In later years he served the company as vice-president and consulting engineer. He sold his interested in the Autocar Co. in 1929 and retired at that time.”

User and Manufacturer
John Clarke
John Clarke, Louis's younger brother, was also involved in the Autocar company from its early years of existence. He, too, sold out his interest in 1929.

Business Partner
William Morgan
William Morgan was in the mill supply business with Louis Clarke in Pittsburgh from 1891 to 1897. He helped build Clarke's first motor vehicle (a gasoline-powered tricycle that is in the Smithsonian's collection) and formed the Pittsburg Motor Vehicle Company with Clarke in 1897. Morgan is listed as an inventor on the patent for that first vehicle (number 602,283, filed in 1897 and granted in 1898).

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